What is in a space designer’s toolkit?

Star date -304979.5527650938. Space designers are landing on planets, exploring, meeting inhabitants and charting the resources. What do space designers carry in their backpacks? What are the essentials to get the job done that you need when traversing the design universe?

The planets?

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Within Automattic a lot of work is going on right now to distill down a design language. You can follow along at muriel.blog to learn more over time. Part of this is a focus on planets and how you move between these building, measuring and learning. This post isn’t fully about those but a brief explanation of those really is needed to add context.

  • Planet Discover: A common starting place where you study, identifying and understanding problems that need solutions.
  • Planet Hypothesis: This is where fast ideas are made. Rapid ideation and iteration is the status of this planet.
  • Planet Deliver: This planet is wrongly thought of as the most valuable, there are resources here but you need to dig deep and return often to mine that knowledge.
  • Planet Listen: This is a far less visited planet and takes a long time to make a full rotation of it.

If you start thinking of the design process as a starship, moving between these planets and then landing to explore, what would each space designer have in their toolkit? Each planetary exploration mission requires different tools.

Standard issue kit

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When all space designers graduate Starfleet they get a standard issue toolkit. What is inside?

  • Sketching: Be it paper or digital, most designers sketch a lot. Visual thinking is key to exploring no matter what planet you are on. Those who digitally sketch may use apps like Sketches or Paper.
  • A log: All space explorers need a log of their work. This could be in the form of the sketchbook, it may be a Dropbox folder. The log though is the record of the journeys they have gone on.
  • Planning: Exploring new planets can be a complicated process. Having something you break down tasks into, or can assign tasks to each crew member, that’s important. Different crews will use different systems, some use Trello and personally some opt for Todoist.
  • Creating: Each space designer has their own preference as to what they create in. Within Automattic the majority now use Sketch.
  • Engineering: Not all space designers have the same certification from Starfleet. Some have a dual qualification, those that do may spend a lot of their time within code, they are still Space designers though. Their tools of choice may be Atom, Sublime and even the command line.
  • Ideation: These tools depend a lot on the space designer. Some will use physical objects, a white board, children’s toys and others will use virtual things. These tools allow the designer to start thinking freely around the problem.
  • Communication: Every space designer needs to keep in touch with their crew, be it through Slack if remote or another means.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
Abraham Maslow

Planet Discover toolkit

There are so many resources on this planet, from the inhabitants to the abundant research mines. This is a noisy planet and has a culture of feedback amongst those living there. On this planet you might be writing questions, sending out surveys and conducting interviews. Common tools found in a space designers toolkit for this planet include:

  • Sorting: With all these resources, a space designer needs a way to sort them. Be it Mural or Google sheets, a way to sort through and find the insights is really important.
  • Feedback: Survey tools like Polldaddy or Google forms are great tools to bring to this planet. The space designer needs varied feedback tools, ones that work on the local inhabitants and also ones that work on the geology of the planet.

Planet Hypothesis toolkit

This planet usually needs some robust tools to deal with the fast orbit. There’s a lot of experimentation happens on this planet, with numerous laboratories and safe places to try ideas. A space designer on this planet could be creating a prototype, conducting usability tests and then working through the feedback in iterations.

  • Feedback: Keeping these tools in the kit from the last planet you visited is a wise move by any space designer. Overtime most space designers find feedback tools work their way into their standard toolkit.
  • Prototyping: These tools come in a lot of different sizes and most space designers both have their own preferred brand and also are constantly trying new ones. It’s a bit of a constant pursuit amongst space designers for the perfect prototyping tool – the one that just works and fits. Some commonly used ones are Invision, Balsamiq and Marvel. Each has a different level of fidelity to it and you don’t even need a branded tool, sometimes just standard issue paper works.

Planet Deliver toolkit

This planet has a lot of workshops and industrial areas, along with a thriving marketplace where space designers all over the universe come with their ideas, build and sell. Space designers have to be careful to not get lost when on this planet, this toolkit needs to be light because the gravity of this planet is strong and you can easily get weighed down, stuck. When in the rotation of this planet the crew might be writing code, launching code and identifying stress cases from that launch. Some common tools for this planetary exploration include:

  • Packaging: Be it a code packager or something else, wrapping up the product to deliver is important. Maybe it’s just as simple as a Github zip.
  • Testing: Although testing tools live in the toolkit of any space designer all the time, this planet needs specific ones. From testing of code through to having a way to roll out gradually tests, it’s all important. Some crews may use Travis or other automation, others may run visual testing or actually go out to do market and do sample testing with the locals – whatever a crew does, the more they test the better the result.
  • Reporting: Being able to report anything that happens during the delivering to market is essential. Some crews may use Github, Trac or any other range of tools to report bugs, issues and anything.
  • Marketing: It’s important to not leave marketing tools out of the toolkit. Once something is made, it’s no use just putting it out on the stall in the market and saying done. Planet Deliver’s marketplace is a heady mix, it’s loud, packed and a crew has to ensure they get seen there.

Planet Listen

Just like planet discovery, there is a strong culture of feedback amongst the people that live on this planet. The inhabitants roam around communal places and are always open to conversation. This planet requires a longer journey to get to. Space designers when there may be on a research mission, conducting market research and adjusting timelines as a result. Because you have to be careful on this planet to stay in orbit, a particular set of tools are needed:

  • Testing: The testing tools here are focused on feedback. For example using something like a Usertesting.com or Silverback, running those tests on a sample of locals. The locals on planet listen are the main resource of this planet.
  • Communication: Just wondering around the communal spaces and listening can give any space designer so many insights. They maybe will hang out in the forums or they could go to one of the regular meet ups or WordCamp events held on this planet. This is a planet where the inhabitants often get together.
  • Feedback: It might be reading the reviews of a product, or it could be again hanging out in the forums. Tapping into the strong feedback that flows throughout this planet is a bountiful resource.

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Every space designer has their toolkit. Part of being a space designer is not only learning from your fellow crew members about new tools, but also discovering new tools as you chart through the planets. Just like the toolkit, the way a space designer uses their tools should change overtime and also for each situation.

All the tools, techniques and technology in the world are nothing without the head, heart and hands to use them wisely, kindly and mindfully
Rasheed Ogunlaru

In the end, it is how the designer uses those tools. Having a toolkit doesn’t make you an amazing designer. It doesn’t mean you’re making the right thing for anyone. The craft comes in knowing how to use the tool. In being aware of the positive and negative effects of the tool on the work, on the people using the product. That’s how each crew has a successful mission.

#remote-work

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